The 10 Most Ridiculous Anti-Homeless Laws

The National Coalition for the Homeless would like to offer a preview of our upcoming report on the criminalization of homelessness by choosing the top ten most ridiculous anti-homeless policies enacted in cities across America. Our criminalization report will offer narratives for many more cities and occurrences than the ones listed here, as well as rank the nation’s ten “meanest” cities. This post counts down our choices for the ten most ridiculous anti-homeless laws/actions.

These five anti-homeless policies are only the tip of the iceberg. Check back in with the Bringing America Home Blog next week for five even more ridiculous laws and actions that not only ignore human rights, but constitutional ones as well.

10 Most Ridiculous Anti-Homeless Laws
~From 2010 through June 2011~

10.  “Homeless Meters” – Multiple Cities

San Antonio TX, Virginia Beach VA, Anchorage AK, and many more cities across America are installing converted parking meters to collect donations for homeless service organizations. These meters are being marketed as a possible solution to panhandling by encouraging do-gooders to give their spare change to established groups instead of directly to the homeless to avoid the possibility of their money being spent on drugs and alcohol.

Donating to vetted homeless service organizations is a positive thing, so we at NCH want the placing of “homeless meter” programs on this list to not necessarily mean that we are against the use of parking meters to collect donations. But we also urge the public to be aware of the negative effects of these efforts.

Personal interaction, which these meters may eliminate, can be just as important to a person experiencing homelessness as an actual monetary donation. A short talk can go lengths and bounds to renewing a feeling of inclusion in society, a feeling that is all too often lost among the sometimes invisible homeless. Donations to service organizations are always encouraged, but we should never let these meters discourage acknowledging that those who ask for money are fellow human beings. Just as ignoring the issue of homelessness will not help end it, ignoring the people directly affected by homelessness will not help them help themselves.

9.  RV Sleeping Ban – Venice, California

In 2010, Venice CA began strict enforcement of an ordinance banning sleeping in RV’s. This action is reportedly due to resident claims of annoyance from noise and inconvenience from the bulky vehicles. But many homeless live in RV’s, and they need to be close to the city so they can access services. Not allowing them to park and sleep in the city makes getting help all the more difficult. The ordinance was enacted due to reports of some RV owners dumping their sewage in public, but this ban punishes Venice’s homeless who have to choose between living either in their RV or on the streets. This homeless population is assuredly much larger than a couple of bad apples who do not care where their waste ends up.

8.  Smoking Ban – Sarasota, Florida

A ban on smoking in some public areas in Sarasota FL may sound fine at first: after all, New York City recently banned smoking in public parks. But the real issue here lies within the City Commission’s intentions, not the validity of the effects of second-hand smoke or cigarette butt pollution. The ban was originally proposed in conjunction with park bench removal at Selby Five Points Park (#6) to discourage the homeless from using the public area. The ban was later expanded to all public parks out of fairness, but this ordinance still remains far from fair: a city-owned golf course was given an exemption because, according to City Manager Bob Bartolotta, “so many of the golfers are smokers.” What is so special about golfers that they should not be required to follow the laws that are in place across the rest of Sarasota’s public parks?

7.  Water Sprinklers – Manteca, California

“Creative” is one way to think of this method of keeping the homeless from sleeping in public parks in Manteca, CA. “Cruel and unusual” is another. In order to discourage the homeless from camping in Library Park, the city purposely changed the water sprinkler schedule so that people could not sleep in the park without an unwanted shower. The policy also includes shutting off power in the park’s gazebo to keep the homeless from using it to charge their cell phones.

6.  Bench Removal – Sarasota, Florida

In response to complaints about gatherings of “vagrants” in public parks from downtown Sarasota FL condo residents, the city decided to remove the presumed host of these gatherings: benches. Sarasota went forward with its plan to remove the benches in Selby Five Points Park in May 2011 in order to please those who pay “the highest property tax value in the county” by discouraging the homeless (and apparently everyone else) from using the park. Combined with a panhandling ban around parking meters and a smoking ban in certain public spaces, which the City Commission originally proposed to further discourage the homeless from using parks (#8), it is all too clear that the Sarasota Commissioners are willing to go to ridiculous lengths to keep their poorest citizens out of the sight of their wealthiest.

For more information on the criminalization of homelessness, you can visit our 2009 Homes Not Handcuffs Report and our 2010 report on Food Sharing Prohibitions.  Be sure to check back next week for the top 5 Most Ridiculous Anti-Homeless Laws!

By Daniel Honeycutt, NCH Intern

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13 Responses to The 10 Most Ridiculous Anti-Homeless Laws

  1. TJ Johnston says:

    I look forward — or should that be “dread?” — to reading part two.

  2. David Ewing says:

    There’s a correction I’d like to make for accuracy’s sake. The citywide ordinance, Muni Code Sec. 85.02, that forbids inhabiting a motor vehicle in Los Angeles (of which Venice is a district) was in place years before the sewage dumping incident. The controversy over people living in vehicles in Venice also predates the sewage incident by a couple of years. It was the enforcement that changed. Venice has historically been a pretty live-and-let-live community, but it is gentrifying rapidly, and the concentration of RVs grew over the last few years. Instead of dealing with some real problems that accompanied this concentration, the city largely ignored them until there was an outcry and then overreacted in response to political pressure, enforcing 85.02 and other punitive ordinances with a vengeance.

  3. David Ewing says:

    Correction of my own correction:
    The ordinance that makes it illegal to inhabit a motor vehicle on city streets or parking lots has been around quite a while, but what the City did to “cleanse” the streets of RVs and campers was to amend an existing ordinance which allowed the city to prohibit parking of “oversize vehicles” at night in posted areas. The city made the size restrictions tighter, and then passed an ordinance making all of the Venice district eligible for posting.

    Our City Councilperson, Bill Rosendahl, promised from the outset that any punitive or restrictive action would be accompanied by a program to move vehicle dwellers into housing and “safe parking” areas for program participants until housing could be found. The program is in place, but the housing comes slowly and no safe parking has yet been provided. A twenty one officer LAPD “Homeless Task Force” modeled on the Safer Cities initiative from Skid Row has been ticketing, towing, rousting, etc., reducing the number of occupied vehicles from 252 to under 50, or so I’m told.

  4. intern says:

    Thank you for the fix David! I’ll update Venice’s entry in our upcoming criminalization report to make it more accurate. – Dan

  5. Paula says:

    Sacramento has a lot of the most stupid laws against homelessness. We got the meters and have since the late ’90′s. The anti-camping is bad and actually stupid. It is against the law to store “camping paraphrenalia” on public property at any time, and against the law to store paraphrenalia on private property without written permission from the property owner? And storage of camping gear includes setting your backpack on a picnic table in a park. Though they don’t enforce this most of the time, they do enforce it whenever they want to hassle/harrass people that are homeless. There’s also a law against intent and using the camping gear. Legally, I think you could sleep outside if you don’t use a blanket, sleeping bag, tarp, etc., but the cops won’t know that.

  6. Paula says:

    I forgot. The “law isn’t meant to” infringe on your property rights, so you can camp on your own property or let your friends camp on your property, as long as you don’t do it for more than 24 hours. Watch out — your children could be arrested for that weekend backyard campout.

  7. JamesR. says:

    All this comes to this code:
    California Penal Code Section 647(e)

    (e) Who lodges in any building, structure, vehicle, or place,
    whether public or private, without the permission of the owner or
    person entitled to the possession or in control of it.

    Fall asleep in your wheel chair and get a ticket as one disabled woman did in LA.
    Fall asleep in a park during a rally and you could get 6 months in jail, as one man did in Sacramento.

    Web Page link: http://law.onecle.com/california/penal/647.html

  8. JamesR. says:

    California Penal Code Section 647

    “Homelessness in California is Now Punishable by a Year in Jail”
    Also this link:http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2011/06/29/18683269.php

    In May 2011, this anti-homeless law 647(E) was made even worse with the State Legislature making a second violation punishable of up to a year in jail and $2,000 fine. So now homelessness in the state of California is punishable by up to a year in jail if one is caught doing it twice.

  9. ØG says:

    “In my mind & lifestyle; I am a traveling, working-artist. In the eyes of Cities across the US, I am one of many kicked under a bus who land in this anonymous crack in the streets wherein uncivilized laws relegate anyone who cannot obtain conventional shelter; confined by thinly veiled laws & defined by the pejorative phrase: ‘Homeless’.” Please don’t be shocked since I am the same person you always knew. That’s all I can say is that God’s Only Begotten Son left the halls of Heaven for Earth on the first Christmas & lived His life as a ‘Homeless’ individual until His death for us all, to sit at the right hand of God, until He returns to Earth with infinite power to rule the Universe in Righteousness forever.” —OG

  10. Lila says:

    So, a homeless person who has no choice but to live in an RV, pay their own way, taxes, insurance, purchases from the economy and has no where else to go can’t even do that. Well, that’s just great. Where does the government expect the ever increasing homeless people to go?? I guess they just would rather we die. There are more people who own homes and have trash, garbage, and filth in their yards than any few inconsiderate RV’rs. This is beyond sickening.

  11. Thanks for sharing this information about the inhumane persecution of homeless people.

  12. rachel says:

    i agree

  13. tina says:

    this is just horrible hate from one who has what they need with noses to the air to those
    who have nothing. when a tornado , job loss . or natural disaster occurs to put u
    in similar conditions may the lord show you only what u have shown and done to
    others. family and friends at that point will walk away . then u will know what its
    like to be hated and persecuted for something out of ur control.

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